- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Juwan Howard is that rare athlete from the last decade or so of Washington sports who, at the mere mention of his name, elicits a passionate response.
Love him or love him not.
So when Howard reared his head back in celebration of a basket against his former team in the early going of the Washington Wizards' 89-74 victory over Howard's Denver Nuggets yesterday at MCI Center, the fireworks were officially on.
Wizards coach Doug Collins thought Howard — booed after every made basket — was directing some of the expletives in his rant at the Wizards, and he responded by coming off the bench and hurling some choice words at Howard, who finished with 25 points and seven rebounds.
Both said afterward it was a misunderstanding, but it was just the beginning of an easy win for the Wizards (21-20) that was chock-full of colorful comments from the combatants.
"They initiated everything," said Michael Jordan, the legendary trash talker who backed up his mouth with 25 points — 12 in the fourth quarter — six assists and five rebounds. "I don't think our guys said one thing. Obviously, Juwan feels more confident, and he wanted to come back and prove something. So he got things started, and then the young kids chimed in. But the thing about talking trash is you've got to back it up. You can sit there and talk all day. But if you're not putting in the effort and backing up what you say, then it becomes an added burden on you.
"I'm accustomed to it. I can play in that atmosphere. I told our guys to calm down and let me do all the talking. 'You guys just play, and by the time we get a lead then everybody can talk.' "
Said Collins: "[Howard] was just fired up. He had his guys fired up. He wanted to win."Jordan's theory held in the end, crystallizing in the third quarter when the Wizards erased a five-point Denver lead and went ahead for good at 50-48 when Larry Hughes (20 points, five rebounds) tipped in a miss with 6:03 left.
Hughes also found the repartee between the teams stimulating. He got tired of listening to the yapping of Vincent Yarbrough and Junior Harrington.
"They started talking a little trash," Hughes said of the 10-30 Nuggets. "They're not doing so good, so they find ways to get themselves going. Turns out they got us going. We wanted to step up in our gym. They were talking a little bit too much. So we had to come out and show them.
"The whole team was talking. But it's fun when you get a chance to play basketball like that again, when the techs aren't called. It takes you back to the day when you can just go out and talk trash and not get penalized for it."
The Wizards dominated the second half, outscoring Denver 50-32.
For Howard, getting revved up to play his old team is easy. In his seven years in Washington he was booed and often blamed for the team's shortcomings, and by the time he was traded to Dallas he was booed on a nightly basis.
Yesterday Howard went over to Collins and expressed he was just trying to get his team fired up, and Collins acknowledged as much after the game. But Howard said the booing in Washington still rankled him.
"It's funny," Howard said. "As much as I gave my all and worked very hard for this franchise and get negative criticism from the fans, I get worked up to come here and play against them because it brings out that fire and that killer instinct. Tonight I just went out there and tried to help my team pull out a victory.
"But we got it all worked out. I was talking to myself because the fans were booing. I told [Collins], 'I've got too much class and too much respect for you for that.' "
However, all the class in the world wouldn't help the Nuggets. After Howard the next highest scorers on the team were Yarbrough and Harrington, who finished with eight points apiece and combined to shoot 8-for-23 from the floor.
Yarbrough, who grew up idolizing Jordan according to the Nuggets media guide, actually got into it with him in the first half. The rookie from Tennessee said something to Jordan that prompted an interesting response.
"You watched me. I didn't watch you," Jordan said.
Jordan and Hughes got plenty of help from their teammates. Bryon Russell, Etan Thomas and Tyronn Lue each finished with 10 points for the Wizards, who played their third game in a row without the injured Jerry Stackhouse.
"Our bench really gave us a jolt today," Collins said. "We've finished the first half of the season with a winning record. Now we've got to go out on the road and play some tough games."

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